Most Controversial Topic of the Day: Self-Pay Lines

Self-checkouts have been around for decades. Not sure if they were nationwide, but Walmart had them in the 90s at the grocery store I worked at in college (I lived near the home office so it was maybe a pilot program). They were largely ignored by customers, although it was very easy to steal items using them. In the years that followed, self-service checkout lines became more popular, but especially for express lane shoppers who had fewer items. Grocery stores, however, maintained a full roster of cashiers and baggers.

Post-pandemic, the number of cashiers in many grocery stores has dropped dramatically while the number of self-service queues has increased (definitely not the case at Trader Joe’s where salaries are better). Many customers were therefore pushed towards the self-service checkouts if only to avoid the 20-minute queues. It’s not just for express shoppers anymore, either: Customers have started to pass through self-service checkout lines with carts full of groceries.

Customers have strong feelings about it, although opinions are divided. Many hate it because they’d rather not do the work themselves, they want to support retail jobs, and the self-service checkout lines are finicky. Personally, I prefer them, if only because it allows me to put my four years of experience as a cashier to good use (I still remember the UPC codes for certain products (4011 – banana!) And because I prefer packing my own groceries, however, if you’re caught behind someone who doesn’t know how to use the self-checkout, it can be beyond frustrating.

On the other hand, while it can be assumed that some of the savings are passed on to customers, the frequency with which people steal from self-service checkouts is likely offsetting these savings while decreasing the number of available jobs. Although many of these jobs are exhausting and low-paying, they can provide opportunities for advancement for some people who otherwise might not have access to management jobs. On the other hand, many stores have switched to self-checkouts out of necessity because, in a tight labor market, they cannot fill many of their cashier positions anyway.

Twitter addressed the issue over the weekend in response to a CNN article, and while some opinions were anticipated, others were unexpected:

Personally, I think the self-checkout experience would be more enjoyable if they played this song on the payline speakers as well (also featured on the soundtrack of the bear):


Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You can email him here, follow him on Twitteror listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.



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Jessica C. Bell